How food brought me closer to my father and Father

Sometimes it smelled sour. Other times, it smelled like strong grape juice with a mix of cologne. Either way, I never minded. Mama didn’t like it, but the smell brought me comfort as I wrapped my arms around my Dad’s round waist and waited for the next whiff of red wine to come. His stomach would cease its rhythmic movement when it was his turn to talk. I didn’t mind, as long as his embrace remained.  

Later…

I shook my head several times.

“Jessica, what’s wrong?” he said.

“Nothing.” I replied, but the tears came more powerfully and my vision more blurred.

“You can talk to Daddy. What’s wrong?” he said, with a voice that was both soothing and sincere. I kept denying it, but all the while, I kept crying—not wanting him to leave. All the while wanting him to keep asking, to keep knocking down the barrier around my heart, to keep being just...right there. I was 5. I was 6. I was 8. I was 9.

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He stooped down to my level and hugged me, and before I knew it, the words proceeded without warning. The release came, and I felt what it was like to lay down a burden and not pick it up again. Daddy heard it, and he would take care of it now.

Years later, déjà vu played itself all too well when experiencing true intimacy with the Holy Spirit. After discovering that the image of the One I worshipped was actually a figment of my imagination—the Lord revealed to me who Christ truly was. It blew my mind.  Christ's love pulled at the depths of my heart, and He wasn’t afraid of what was witnessed upon its exposure—though I was of His reaction. In a moment of familiarity, I felt my lips confess in the light of His love and Holiness, and felt what I had felt years before—a burden left at the feet of my Father.   

But these déjà vu moments didn’t end there upon getting older.

From the time I was born, my parents recall an interesting relationship that I had with food from an early age. All said I was a happy baby. I barely cried, fussed, threw a tantrum—unless I was hungry.  

When I was barely walking, my dad told me of a time that I took his hand and walked him to the door of the refrigerator. Upon him opening it, I simply pointed to the food that I wanted.

It’s been in the midst of my odd relationship with food, that I remember the most profound moments of my dad. Some may think it strange, but it were in these moments of crazily wanting my favorite dish—that I saw the character of my dad.

For instance, In elementary school, every Friday at 7:00PM, I had practice at the local community center for basketball. I loved basketball. But even more so, I loved the sugary gatorade drink that I got to drink on my ride home.

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My dad was the one who always picked me up from my basketball practices on Friday. Not only did I enjoy him picking me up due to his ability to always listen to my talking/rambles about my day, but I knew that I  could always convince him to pick us up some Mazzio’s pizza for the family on our way home. Mazzio’s was a chain restaurant that felt more like a local restaurant. To me, it was Memphis’ Very own style of doing signature deep dish (like) pizzas—though now I know that this restaurant originated from OK. Anywho, once he would pick me up from basketball practice, I’d ask my father my one question at the perfect opportunity. Like clockwork, my father would always stop.

Once my basketball season ended, however, my ploy to ask my dad for pizza on our way home ended. Therefore, after school,  I’d plan to call my dad's office right around 6:00PM, when I thought he’d be leaving his dental office, and I’d first ask whether he was on his way home. Then I’d ask if he could stop to get some pizza. I would always try to ask in my most nonchalant but high pitched voice (as innocent as possible was what I was going for). Yet, one particular day, my mom caught me on the phone delivering my strategy. When I got off the phone, she asked who I was talking to.

“Oh, just daddy,” I said.

“What did you say?” she further inquired.

“I asked him if he could bring home some Mazzios.”

She went onto berate me by telling me how we had food at the house, how I was acting spoiled—I think the word she used was “brat,” and how I needed to know when to not ask for things, etc. I felt defeated.

Was I really spoiled? Did I really not think about how Daddy must have felt getting off work late and then abiding by another request from someone else—though tired. 

I thought briefly of these things and then saw my mom dial the phone.

Uh oh, was she calling daddy? Was she going to convince him otherwise? I knew she made some valid points, but he seemed to be okay with it to me.

Her voice sounded convincing. She seemed to be winning him over.

Oh no. Oh no. Were we not getting Mazzio’s tonight? I was looking forward to it all day.

My mom got off the phone and seemed to look at me as though every word she said to me, previous to the phone call with my dad, was true. Her countenance made me aware that she was not taking  one word back. I left her room. I was upset, because she called me a bad word in my book. But more so, I was upset because she wanted to delay my most desired gratification.

An hour or so passed and my sister called my sisters and my mom downstairs. Our favorite Friday night show was about to come on, “Providence.” To this day, I remember watching it faithfully with my family, but I cannot recall one scene. While racing downstairs and preparing to snag my seat on the couch, Daddy walked in. In his hand wasn’t just his briefcase, nor just his keys—but  two large Mazzio pizzas in hand. My own selfishness, at the time, didn’t recognize the heart behind the act. I was consumed with the joy in thinking that I had scored my sisters and I pizza another week in a row. Nevermind Mama being mad. I was happy!

I sometimes wish I could go back to that moment. I wish I could pause time and stare at my dad. I want to see his joy in giving us girls what we requested. His happiness in coming home to his family. I want to see his tiredness, his running thoughts over the next bill to be paid, his warring tension to be alone to debrief from the day but then his ultimate decision to stay and watch Providence with us. I want to see it. I want to take it all in. And then I want to hug him and say thank you. But I know I can’t—hence the reason for me writing now.

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3-4 years later, the same rang true when he and I went to eat some Captain D’s. After picking it up, he and I took turns eating the portions of popcorn shrimp. It became clear that I was eating the majority of it. When it came down to the very last one, I winced. I didn’t want to give it up. yeah , I know that I’m eating too much of it. I’m not even hungry anymore, I thought to myself.  But the aching desire for more outwon. I said the next sentence without thought.

“Daddy, can I have the last one.”

My conscience, even at that age, reminded me of my greed. But I wanted more and more.

I’ll never forget the look on my dada’s face. I expected him to laugh and jokingly say, “No, gimme my shrimp”;  or maybe launch into a lecture on how I eat too much; or perhaps love food too much to the pointof greed. He wouldn't  have been wrong in any way. But instead, he threw me a curveball.

“Yes,” he responded.

I ate it, but just as quickly as I did so, the guilt quickly settled in. I suddenly felt bad. Here I was eating too much and still wasn’t willing to offer up the last one to someone who had sacrificed so much on my behalf.

“Didn’t you want the last one?” I asked ashamedly.

“Huh?”

“Didn’t you want the last shrimp?” I asked.

He smiled,  “Do you know how many popcorn shrimps i’ve eaten in my lifetime. How old are you? I’m 40 something. Think about how many more popcorn shrimp I’ve had  than you.” he said while grabbing my knee and shaking it. He always did this one physical act when he didn’t want his girls (daughters)  to feel bad. I felt he did that to hopefully shake off whatever was bothering us. If we couldn’t do this on our own, he’d do this one act as though he physically could.

His kindness didn’t erase the guilt. But boy did it make me feel better after taking my last bite!